technology

Oceans Warmer?

A front page story in the Arizona Daily Star today (9-2109) proclaims “World’s Oceans Warmer Than Ever.” Well, not exactly, it depends on which data set you are reading.  The graph below from NOAA (NOAA’s ERSST.v3b version) shows that past July ocean temperatures have exceeded current values.

To see an analysis of this Associated Press story, see http://tinyurl.com/mautss

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Solar Updraft Towers, an alternate, alternative energy source

solar-towerA solar updraft tower collects warm air that forms near the ground, funneled by a canopy, and sends it up a chimney. Turbines in the airflow produce electricity.

I was first made aware of this device from the blog of Dr. Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and former Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Spencer says, “It’s a little like wind tower technology, but rather than just extracting energy from whatever horizontally-flowing wind happens to be passing by, the Solar Tower concentrates all of that warm air heated by the ground into the central tower, or chimney, where the air naturally rises. Even on a day with no wind, the solar tower will be generating electricity while conventional wind towers are sitting there motionless.” And it works at night.

“The total amount of energy that can be generated by a Solar Tower depends upon two main factors: (1) how much land area is covered by the clear canopy, and (2) the total height of the tower.” It also depends on the temperature difference between the power plant’s surroundings and the air underneath the canopy.

A prototype was built in Spain a few years ago.

See here for a You Tube demonstration of this project.

A private company, EnviroMission, is constructing a 200 Megawatt solar tower in the Australian outback.

This technology may be economically competitive with coal fired power plants, unlike current wind or solar generation schemes.

In the Spanish test, they expected that the ground under the canopy would be barren due to the very high temperatures. However, they found that the greenhouse effect (a physical barrier to cooling, unlike greenhouse gases) caused condensation at night and produced lush vegetation under the canopy. Perhaps special crops could be grown at these stations.

“Clean Coal”: Boon or Boondoggle?

President Obama says he favors “Clean Coal.” Coal produces 49% of the electricity generated in the United States. But burning coal puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and that scares the politically correct and the carbon cultists, including Barack Obama and John McCain. Their solution is to capture carbon dioxide, transport it to a storage site, and bury it. That comes at considerable cost in both dollars and in additional coal burned to produce the energy needed for the process. But “clean coal” is now the political panacea, even though there is no evidencethat CO2 emissions significantly affect temperature. In fact, additional atmospheric CO2 would be beneficial by making plant life more robust.

Coal-fired plants are much cleaner than they were in 1970 when Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments. Since that time, coal-fired electrical generation increased by 180% while SO2 emissions decreased by 80% and NOx decreased by 70% (in pounds per megawatt-hour) according to the EPA. According to the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, a new pulverized coal plant (operating at lower, “subcritical” temperatures and pressures) reduces the emission of NOx by 86 percent, SO2 by 98 percent, and particulate matter by 99.8 percent, as compared with a similar plant having no pollution controls.

Carbon Capture Technology

The most promising technology for CO2 capture is called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle. But the cost of building a power plant with this technology to capture 90% of the CO2 generated is 47% higher than that for a traditional power plant, according to a 2006 study by the EPA.

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), existing capture technologies are not cost-effective when considered in the context of sequestering CO2 from power plants. Most power plants and other large point sources use air-fired combustors, a process that exhausts CO2 diluted with nitrogen. Flue gas from coal-fired power plants contains 10%-12% CO2 by volume, while flue gas from natural gas combined cycle plants contains only 3%-6% CO2. For effective carbon sequestration, the CO2 in these exhaust gases must be concentrated and separated.

CO2 is currently recovered from combustion exhaust by using amine absorbers and cryogenic coolers. The cost of CO2 capture using current technology is on the order of $150 per ton of carbon – much too high for carbon emissions reduction applications according to DOE. Analysis performed by SFA Pacific, Inc. indicates that adding existing technologies for CO2 capture to an electricity generation process could increase the cost of electricity by 2.5 cents- to 4 cents/kWh depending on the type of process. That would about double the cost of natural gas and coal produced electricity, making it almost as expensive as electricity produced from wind energy.

The EPA, which usually underestimates costs, says that capturing CO2 imposes a cost of about $24 per ton, much less than DOE. Even at that lower estimate, however, the largest U.S. power plant which emits about 25 million tons of CO2 annually, would incur an extra cost of $600 million per year. For all U.S. coal-fired power plants, which emit a total of more than 2.2 billion tons annually, the cost would be $52 billion per year. Passing along the capital and operating costs to consumers would raise electricity prices by almost 40% according to the EPA.

Carbon Storage

The capture cost is only part of the story. The gas must be compressed, transported, and buried.

Where would it be stored? Several types of geological reservoirs theoretically provide sufficient storage capacity. According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), “more than 88 billion metric tons of geologic storage potential exists in 9,667 oil and gas reservoirs distributed over 27 states and 3 Canadian provinces.”

Unmineable coal seams can be drilled to collect the methane for use in energy applications. Once the methane is recovered, CO2 could be pumped into the wells, where it is preferentially stored in the coal, releasing additional methane. “More than 180 billion metric tons of CO2 sequestration potential exists in unmineable coal seams…distributed over 24 states and 3 provinces,” according to NETL.

Deep saline formations could provide another storage option. An analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006 showed that wells deep underground consisting of porous rock, such as limestone or sandstone, saturated with saltwater, would form an effective trap for injected CO2. Geologically, over time, some CO2 would react with rock minerals to form solid carbonates, further immobilizing it. Deep saline aquifers could potentially store between 3,300 to more than 12,200 billion metric tons of CO2, according to NETL.

 

Pipe Dreams

In theory, there appears to be plenty of potential underground storage for captured carbon dioxide, but the theoretical is different from the practical. Location relative to the power plants makes much of these reservoirs impractical to actually use.

Getting the carbon dioxide from the power plants to the storage areas is problematic and expensive. And, of course, Greenie extremists are likely to oppose construction of the many high-pressure pipelines that would be required. A report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), entitled “Pipelines for Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Control: Network Needs and Cost Uncertainties” (Jan. 10, 2008) shows several hypothetical examples of CO2 pipelines running from the 11 largest CO2 emitters in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia — all coal-fired electric power plants emitting over 9 million metric tons of CO2 annually — to potential regional sequestration sites.

In the least expensive scenario, it would take an estimated $66 million to build pipelines each with a capacity of 10 million tons of CO2 annually from the 11 plants to a nearby geological formation called Rose Run. Unfortunately, as the CRS points out, Rose Run may not have the capacity to accept all the CO2 produced, and injecting pressurized CO2 may cause minor earthquakes. While the earthquakes may create additional capacity for CO2, they may also produce permanent conduits for leakage.

Unmineable coal beds in the same general area as Rose Run are another option but their capacity falls far short of Rose Run’s.

The 10 largest local depleted oil and gas fields have an average capacity of 251 million tons of CO2, but the 30-year CO2 output of the 11 plants is estimated to range from 270 million tons to 491 million tons at current emission levels. Not only is their capacity lacking, but the oil and gas fields pose a significant risk of leaking.

A final option considered by CRS is piping the CO2 hundreds of miles west to a geological area in Michigan, Indiana and western Ohio known as the Mt. Simon formation. The average cost of building each pipeline would be $150 million.

That’s a bargain, however, compared to a geographically disadvantaged area like North Carolina. A Duke University study estimated it would cost $5 billion to transport CO2 from North Carolina’s electric utilities to sequestration sites in other states.

The CRS report emphasized an August 2007 decision by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to reject a 450-mile pipeline to a Canadian oil field costing over $635 million as “not in the public interest.”

According to the Business & Media Institute, Stanford Professor Ken Caldeira, an IPCC Report Author, estimates that the annual cost to capture carbon from power plants worldwide, will be $800 billion.

Another study by Xina Xie, University of Wyoming, and Michael Economides, University of Texas, The Impact of Carbon Geological Sequestration, says that carbon capture sequestration for just Kyoto Protocol-type CO2 cuts in the U.S. would require the drilling of 161,429 injection wells by 2030 at a cost of 1.61 trillion dollars — and there’s no guarantee that the CO2 would stay sequestered, much less accomplish anything for the climate.

Boon or Boondoggle

While carbon capture and storage may be technologically possible, it makes no sense either economically or scientifically. It is a solution seeking a problem; it is utter wastefulness. But bureaucrats, politically correct and stupid politicians, and industry, will suck up to the trough of public money to promote these wasteful schemes in an attempt to quell the phantom menace of carbon dioxide. Raising the cost of electricity 50% to 100% should make us feel all warm and fuzzy since “clean coal” will assuage our carbon guilt.

And just to make it interesting, the Center for Biological Diversity has just formed a new law institute in San Francisco with the goal of stopping all electrical generation from use of fossil fuels. I hope they will not be hypocrites and actually use fossil-fuel-produced electricity during their campaign.

Smart Grid may ration electricity

President Obama is a proponent of a “smart grid” to better distribute electricity between producers (including all those windmills he wants to build) and consumers. I agree that we need to update our infrastructure with more power plants and transmission lines. However, the following excerpt from a press release of a Maryland utility seems ominous.

BALTIMORE, Jul 13, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) today announced it has filed with the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) a comprehensive and advanced Smart Grid initiative, including the planned installation of 2 million residential and commercial smart meters, that could potentially save BGE electric and gas customers in excess of $2.6 billion over the life of the project. In an extensive pilot program that began in 2008, smart meters and a new pricing plan proved that customers can reduce peak electricity usage by about a third and enjoy significant savings. BGE is seeking prompt action by the Maryland PSC and federal approval of stimulus dollars to position the utility to move to the next phase of this potential smart grid investment.

The first phase of BGE’s Smart Grid proposal would be the installation of 2 million advanced, or “smart,” electric and gas meters, operating through a robust utility-to-customer, two-way communications network, which forms the foundation for an automated, digital intelligent grid.

BGE claims benefits to consumers of about $5 per month.

I have a time-of-use electric meter on my house. I can choose when to run appliances, such as the washer or drier, to make sure it is in off-peak times, and thus save money. The operative phrase here is “I can choose.”

However, the “smart meters” used by BGE operate “through a robust…two-way communications network…” That means the utility company can decide when and how much gas and electricity you can use at any given time. The ultimate purpose of the meters is to allow local utilities to ration electricity as demand rises faster than supply, a situation caused in part by enviros blocking construction of new power plants and transmission lines.

To find out more about U.S. electricity generation, see: Obama clueless on energy, part 1.